Coles has reversed its decision to stop providing free plastic bags to shoppers, saying some need more time to adjust to the switch to reusable bags.
The supermarket banned single-use plastic bags on 1 July and told customers they would have to pay 15c for thicker, reusable bags. But then it began handing out the thicker bags for free in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia as it gave customers time to adjust.
It was meant to stop providing its reusable Better Bags for free on 1 August but has now gone back on that decision and appears set to provide them indefinitely. The thinner, single-use bags at Coles remain unavailable.
Greenpeace criticised the decision as irresponsible and disappointing, saying that Coles is perpetuating the problem of plastic waste by providing free bags.
“They talked the talk but haven’t walked the walk,” said a spokeswoman, Zoe Dean.
“It’s interesting because the ban on single-use bags came as a result of pressure from customers and people calling for companies to take responsibility and stop using plastic bags.
“While a minority of people are struggling to cope, we know it’s just a matter of time for people to adapt to the change.”
Craig Reucassel, host of the ABC’s War on Waste, said the decision was “insane”.
“The only good part of [the ban] was the 15c charge, which would change people’s behaviour over time. Without it, you have only brought in thicker plastic bags.”
Many shoppers and environmental groups pointed out that the thicker bag was more harmful to the environment and harder to break down.
Jeff Angel, the director of Total Environment Centre, said the decision would increase plastic pollution.
“These slightly thicker bags are just as bad for the environment and will be sent to landfill and littered in dangerous numbers,” he said. “Clearly Coles has a very weak environmental ethic and is oversensitive to a few complaints.”
The bags will not be given away for free in South Australia, the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania, because those states and territories have already banned lightweight plastic bags entirely.
South Australian shoppers have lived without plastic bags since 2009, those in the NT and ACT since 2011, and in Tasmania since 2013.
Other supermarket chains including Aldi and Harris Farm Market have also banned plastic bags. Aldi have never provided free single-use plastic bags since its expansion to Australia in 2001.
In a statement, a Coles spokeswoman said the free bags “are intended to be an interim measure” but would not give a timeframe.
“We will continue to listen to our customers and our teams members on an ongoing basis to assess when customers have become accustomed to bringing their own bags, and will provide them with as much notice as possible,” the spokeswoman said.
Woolworths has also banned single-use bags but it was unclear whether it would follow Coles by relaxing its policy. It has been contacted for comment.
Australian Associated Press contributed to this report